The New York Islanders got some good news on Friday. Matt Martin took some drills with the team ahead of Saturday’s preseason game in Connecticut.
Martin had been recovering from offseason surgery he had to remove a bone chip in his ankle and had not skated yet with the team up until Friday. He has been skating on his own, according to head coach Barry Trotz.
Matt Martin could begin to ramp up his work over the next few days and possibly join the rest of the team full time.
While the cause for concern seems relatively low, there is always a chance for a setback or the need for extra time for Matt Martin to fully recover. With the season only two weeks away, let’s look at potential candidates to fill Martin’s spot in the lineup if he cannot start his season on time.
When general manager Lou Lamoriello traded veteran defenseman, Nick Leddy, to the Detroit Red Wings, forward Richard Panik came back the other way. Panik, a nine-year veteran, is now on his seventh NHL team and has been fighting hard in camp to make the opening night roster.
The Islanders’ fourth line is known for grinding away at opponents, but this is a line that can still provide offense. Centerman Casey Cizikas has offensive upside, while Cal Clutterbuck has one of the more underrated wrist shots on the team. Even Martin, the least offensive of the trio, scored some big goals in the postseason.
Panik has shown over his career what he is capable of doing in the offensive zone when given the opportunity.
Panik played in the Islanders’ first preseason game against the Rangers and filled the stat sheet quite well as he showed the multitude of ways he can help the Islanders if given the opportunity.
He picked up the secondary assist on the Islanders’ opening tally, a beautiful tic-tac-toe play eventually finished off by Brock Nelson. He also recorded a hit, a block, and a takeaway in 15:21 of ice time.
First goal of the preseason brought to you by Brock Nelson! pic.twitter.com/stOzUkkYoT
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 26, 2021
With Panik’s ability to play strong in his own zone, backed by his ability to finish off plays, he provides the strongest option if Martin is not ready.
Although Leo Komarov took the criticism from the Islanders faithful last season, there is no question that he has earned the trust of Trotz. When Anders Lee tore his ACL in mid-march, Komarov played on the top line with Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle. Trotz sacrificed offensive production for defensive production and got the defense he was looking for.
Komarov did his job and played a significant role in helping the Islanders stay afloat once Lee went down, also playing his defensive brand of hockey during the postseason run. He also was a member of the Islanders’ penalty kill unit, which refinished sixth during the regular season, at 83.7%
Before Lee went down, Komarov was not an everyday player in the Islanders lineup. Trotz based his lineup decisions on the opponent’s strengths. If he knew the team had a more potent offense, Komarov’s name was called.
The fact that the Islanders have a deeper offensive team this season than they did last year may bode well for Komarov getting more opportunities during the 82-game season.
Komarov played 17:15 in the first preseason game and was credited with a hit alongside Kieffer Bellows and prospect Aatu Raty.
Ross Johnston is not your stereotypical NHL enforcer. Despite playing a physical brand of hockey and showing zero hesitation to drop the gloves, the 6’5 forward is much quicker than people think. That adds an extra element to his game, to separate him from the rest of the depth players.
Because of his speed and frame, he has the ability to be a presence in the offensive zone, as he forechecks hard and does have the skill to make plays.
Johnston has played in both preseason games, doing what he could to garner the attention of the coaching staff.
In the first preseason game, Johnston scored the final goal for the Islanders as he wacked a puck out of mid-air to finish off a great play.
Johnston added an assist and three hits in his 12:22 of ice time alongside Cizikas and Clutterbuck.
In the second preseason game, Johnston picked up three assists in just under 12 minutes.
The one downside of Johnston’s game is his defensive play. In a lineup as deep as the Islanders, that weakness puts him lower on the depth charts.
With the Islanders’ fourth line being cemented in stone for the last handful of years, ice time availability has not been there for Johnston. Johnston played a career-high 32 games back in 2019-20 when Clutterbuck missed 31 games due to a deep skate laceration.
It will be an uphill battle for Johnston to even make the lineup given the depth of the Islanders.
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